A brilliant organiser and charismatic speaker, Claudia Jones was at the forefront of Britain’s civil rights struggle during the 1950s
For years there had been a quiet but determined campaign to ensure that she received her proper place in history for the pivotal role she played in the anti-racist campaigns of the 1950s. But it was in the US where she first rose to prominence. Born in Trinidad, she joined her parents in New York as a young girl. She became a member of the US Communist Party at 18 and swiftly rose through the ranks to become a leading member, regarded as one of its most accomplished speakers and writers.
In 1948 she was arrested during the anti-communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era and served six months in prison. In 1955 she was incarcerated for the fourth time and after spending a year and a day in jail she was deported.
Barred from Trinidad as a political risk, she was allowed to enter the UK, where she promptly resumed her activism. In 1958 she founded the West Indian Gazette and Afro Asian News as a platform for the civil rights struggle gathering pace among newly arrived migrants. During the Notting Hill and Nottingham race riots of that year it sold a record 30,000 copies.
Caribbean leaders like Cheddi Jagan of Guyana and Norman Manley of Jamaica were among those who attended the paper’s cramped Brixton offices to be interviewed, while George Lamming and Jan Carew were among those writers who contributed articles.
In January 1959 Claudia organised an indoor carnival at St Pancras Town Hall in celebration of Caribbean culture as part of the community’s response to the anti-black violence on the streets. Five more followed and the initiative is considered as the inspiration behind the Notting Hill Carnival.
Her health ruined by her frequent stays in prison, Claudia died of a heart attack in December 1964 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery next to her political hero, Karl Marx.
Since 2001 the National Union of Journalists’ Black Members Council have held an annual lecture to commemorate her and past speakers have included Diane Abbott MP.